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Pronoucing Castellano and Català

Ferdinand and Isabella

Castellano, or Castilian, as Spanish is properly called, was the first modern language to have a grammar written for it. When a copy was presented to Queen Isabel in 1492, she understandably asked what it was for. ‘Your Majesty,’ replied a perceptive bishop, ‘language is the perfect instrument of empire.’

It’s relatively easy to pick up a working knowledge of Castilian; but Spaniards speak colloquially and fast. Expressing yourself may prove a little easier than understanding the replies. If you already fluent, note that the Spaniards increasingly use the familiar instead of usted when they are addressing even complete strangers, so don't be offended by what may be seen as a lack of respect.

Everyone in Barcelona speaks Castilian, but increasingly they prefer to express themselves in Català, or Catalan, a language closely related to the Provençal or Occitan of southern France. Although Barcelona is officially bilingual, you’ll find street and shop signs, and even museum descriptions exclusively in Catalan. You’ll be able to decipher many of the signs if you can read French or Spanish — but just try to understand spoken Català, at least until you get the hang of the pronunciation.

For a list of useful phrases, see here; for a menu decoder, see here.

Pronunciation: Castellano


a short a as in ‘pat’

e short e as in ‘set’

i as e in ‘be’

o between long o of ‘note’ and short o of ‘hot’

u silent after q and gue- and gui-; otherwise long u as in ‘flute’

ü w sound, as in ‘dwell’

y at end of word or meaning and, as i


c before the vowels i and e, pronounced as th; cinco is theenco

d often becomes th, or is almost silent, at end of word; Madrid is Madreeg before i or e, pronounced as jh silent

j the ch in loch – a guttural, throat-clearing h

ll like English y

ñ ny as in canyon

q k

r usually rolled at the beginning of a word; always when rr

v often pronounced as b

z th, like a soft c, but s in parts of Andalucía

Pronunciation: Catalan

You’ll have to listen closely; Catalan, like French but unlike Castellano, elides words together.


a short as in pat; à like ah

e usually short e as in ‘set’

i as e in ‘be’

ig tch at the end of a word

o short o of ‘hot’; at end of a word, like ‘to’

u a bit like oo as in look


c soft before i and e

ç like s

g before i or e, pronounced as a hard sh;

tg like d

g in budge

h silent

j as the French, jambon

ll like the lli in million; pronounce the unique Catalan l.l as a single L

ny like the Castellano ñ, makes a twang at the end of a word as in senyq k, but like quick before an a or or rolled at the beginning of a word; always when rr; silent at the end of a word

x usually soft sh as in shop;

tx is like tch as match

z like the English zone

Text © Dana Facaros and Michael Pauls

Images by: PD Art